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Sergei Rachmaninoff at the piano Rachmaninoff playing Steinway grand piano.jpg
Sergei Rachmaninoff at the piano
Motion capture of two pianists' fingers playing the same piece (slow motion, no sound). [1]
'Humoresque' by Sergei Rachmaninoff

A pianist ( US: /pˈænɪst/ pee-AN-ist, also /ˈpənɪst/ PEE-ə-nist) is an individual musician who plays the piano. Since most forms of Western music can make use of the piano, pianists have a wide repertoire and a wide variety of styles to choose from, among them traditional classical music, jazz, blues, and all sorts of popular music, including rock and roll. Most pianists can, to an extent, easily play other keyboard-related instruments such as the synthesizer, harpsichord, celesta, and the organ.


Pianists past and present

Modern classical pianists dedicate their careers to performing, recording, teaching, researching, and learning new works to expand their repertoire. They generally do not write or transcribe music as pianists did in the 19th century. Some classical pianists might specialize in accompaniment and chamber music, while others (though comparatively few) will perform as full-time soloists.


Gaspard de la nuit by Maurice Ravel is considered a highly technically challenging piano piece. [2]

Mozart could be considered the first "concert pianist" as he performed widely on the piano. Composers Beethoven and Clementi from the classical era were also famed for their playing, as were, from the romantic era, Liszt, Brahms, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, and Schumann. It was during the Classical period that the piano begins to establish its place in the hearts and homes of everyday people. From that era, leading performers less known as composers were Clara Schumann and Hans von Bülow. However, as we do not have modern audio recordings of most of these pianists, we rely mainly on written commentary to give us an account of their technique and style.


Tord Gustavsen playing piano during a concert at the 2016 Oslo Jazz Festival in Norway Tord Gustavsen (221258).jpg
Tord Gustavsen playing piano during a concert at the 2016 Oslo Jazz Festival in Norway

Jazz pianists almost always perform with other musicians. Their playing is more free than that of classical pianists, and they create an air of spontaneity in their performances. They generally do not write down their compositions; improvisation is a significant part of their work. Well known jazz pianists include Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock.

Pop and rock

Popular pianists might work as live performers (concert, theatre, etc.) or session musicians. Arrangers most likely feel at home with synthesizers and other electronic keyboard instruments. Notable popular pianists include Victor Borge who performed as a comedian; Richard Clayderman, who is known for his covers of popular tunes; and singer and entertainer Liberace, who at the height of his fame, was one of the highest-paid entertainers in the world.

Well-known pianists

A single listing of pianists in all genres would be impractical, given the multitude of musicians noted for their performances on the instrument. Below are links to lists of well-known or influential pianists divided by genres:

Classical pianists

Jazz pianists

Pop and rock music pianists

Blues pianists

Gospel pianists

New-age pianists


Many important composers were also virtuoso pianists. The following is an incomplete list of such musicians.

Classical period

Romantic period

Modern period

Amateur pianism

An amateur pianist playing outdoors at Pike Place market in Seattle. Johnny Hahn January 2012.JPG
An amateur pianist playing outdoors at Pike Place market in Seattle.

Some people, having received a solid piano training in their youth, decide not to continue their musical careers but choose nonmusical ones. As a result, there are prominent communities of amateur pianists all over the world that play at quite a high level and give concerts not to earn money but just for the love of music. [3] The International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, held annually in Paris, attracts about one thousand listeners each year and is broadcast on French radio.

It is notable that Jon Nakamatsu, the Gold Medal winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for professional pianists in Fort Worth, Texas (1997) was at the moment of his victory technically an amateur: he never attended a music conservatory or majored in music, and worked as a high school German teacher at the time; it was only after the competition that he started pursuing a career as a classical pianist.

The German pianist Davide Martello is known for traveling around conflict zones to play his moving piano. Martello has previously been recognised by the European Parliament for his “outstanding contribution to European cooperation and the promotion of common values”. [4]

See also

Related Research Articles

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  2. Burton-Hill, Clemency. "How performers conquer 'unplayable' works". www.bbc.com. Retrieved 2021-03-28.
  3. Andreas, Møller. "Professionel pianist leverer dinnermusik til jeres fest af højeste klasse". Pianomusic.dk. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  4. Bucks, Jonathan (15 November 2015). "Paris attacks: pianist 'drove 400 miles through the night' to pay tribute". The Guardian .